When I moved into my home many years ago, the builder provided only a back fence. We had to build side fences and gates and use some imagination when it came to landscaping. I was particularly interested in finding climbers that would cover some of the fences and soften those stark white walls.
I started with star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) because it was popular at the time. This plant is an easy climber for beginners as it will grow in either sun or shade and will almost support itself. Its white blossoms are fragrant and will attract bees so don’t plant it too close to a door.
I was so pleased that the star jasmine did well that I decided to try another jasmine, this one with a pinkish bud that blossoms into a dainty white flower. Poet's jasmine (Jasminum officinale) is not as sturdy as the star jasmine but is equally fragrant and very pretty.
Now that I had taken care of walls it was time to start on the fences. My neighbor was kind enough to cover one of the side fences with a violet trumpet vine (Clytostoma callistegioides).
This climber has given both my neighbor and me a lot of pleasure. It is a durable, drought-tolerant vine with prolific flowers that last from spring to late fall. My neighbor’s plant now covers the entire side fence, which is about 10 feet long. Trumpet vine will continue to spread if allowed but can be pruned in late winter by removing any long runners. I look forward to those lavender flowers every summer.
Climbing roses are another option for a fence cover. I have three different roses growing against a back fence. I chose 'Climbing Iceberg,' a hardy white rose that flowers prolifically; ‘Clair Matin,’ a pink climber; and another pink rose called 'Rennae' that grows well in the shade and has no thorns. There are many climbing roses. The pink ‘Cecile Brunner’ can spectacularly cover an arbor or a wire fence.
Another thornless rose is ‘Lady Banks,’ which can be seen all over Napa Valley in early spring. It is a particularly vigorous plant, its small yellow or white flowers sometimes seen high in trees. Unfortunately, it flowers only once a year.
All climbers need sturdy support. I have found that wire works better than wood in a trellis. If you are planning a wood arbor, use 4 x 6 or 6 x 6 posts at least 10 feet high to allow the vines to grow up and over for the best effect.
Now that my walls and fences have been softened by plants, I have turned to my chimney. Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) is one of California's better choices for covering brick. The one I planted last year has reached halfway up the chimney and is spreading sideways, too. I have great hopes that it will do its job and cover the whole chimney.
Others climbers can be spectacular in a suitable situation. Wisteria, with its lovely hanging purple or white chains of blossoms, can be overwhelming and needs a large arbor. Passion vine is aggressive and can spread 20 to 30 feet in a season. A grape vine can be successful but needs a careful annual pruning. Bougainvillea is spectacular but susceptible to frost and not suited to Napa Valley unless well protected. Even then, a cold winter may kill it.
I encourage you to experiment with climbing plants as I did. Perhaps try a potato vine with its prolific white flowers; a bower vine, with pink trumpet-shaped blossoms; or scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) with its scarlet flowers followed by flat edible bean pods. Everyone loves the sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus), a vine that likes warm days and cool nights and fills the air with perfume. The choices are many and just waiting for you to plant them.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will conduct a workshop on “Container Gardening” on Saturday, May 18, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension office (address below). Learn to grow mobile gardens that take advantage of the best sites in your yard or home. Discover the best containers, soils and locations for your plants to prosper. Online registration (credit card only) Mail in registration (cash or check only)
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners (http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions?